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From Montreal to Finland, residential greenhouses are on the rise

The eight families occupying the Maison Productive House in Montreal’s Pointe–Saint-Charles neighbourhood enjoy freshly picked produce year-round without having to step foot off the property. The building, completed in 2010, features a rooftop greenhouse that residents use to grow everything from lettuce to watermelon. Architect Rune Kongshaug, principal and founder of Produktif Studio, based in New York and Montreal, conceptualized the design as a carbon-neutral, self-sufficient structure, and it’s among a mere sixdozen residential buildings in Canada certified as LEED Platinum.

Productive House provides a communal growing space for residents of a Montreal building.

The greenhouse is heated by a common sauna, which itself is partially heated by a bakery on the building’s ground floor. Kongshaug’s aspiration to achieve urban food autonomy stems from years of research into unsustainable and inefficient agriculture practices. “We need to rewrite the textbook on local housing and food supply chain,” says Kongshaug. “Food, housing, jobs and affordability are intrinsically related.” Although urban agriculture has been gaining momentum in the past two decades, very few multi-family dwellings have addressed food cultivation in cold climates. As the desire for eco lifestyle continues to grow, he believes we will see more greenhouses in urban settings.

Whether the interest in urban food cultivation stems from a love of gardening or a desire for a sustainable lifestyle, residential greenhouses are on the rise. “Many cities, including Montreal and New York City are moving toward allowances in zoning that permit roof greenhouses,” says Kongshaug. The growing trend is seeing architects designing for a variety of scales, uses and budgets, and he already sees potential for uses beyond getting your hands dirty, including aquaponics, permaculture and community-based remedies and pharmaceuticals.

In Pittsburgh, the owners of a 19th century townhouse were among the first to go the contemporary conservatory route when, in 1978, they erected a rooftop greenhouse that allowed them to garden in a dense urban setting. Excess heat from the greenhouse provided heating to the individual apartments. The structure was redesigned by Studio D’Arc in 2005, with a new name (Urban Biophillic Pavilion), a sleeker look and additional modern features, such as an energy recovery ventilator (ERV) that captures up to 90 per cent of energy from ventilated air.

Ayre Chamberlain Gaunt’s Itchen Greenhouse in Winchester, England. (Andy Matthews)

Far from urban hustle and bustle, the Itchen Greenhouse, built in 2011 within the grounds of the 16th-century Mill and Eel House in Winchester, England, is a deceptively simple space. Designed by Basingstoke-based Ayre Chamberlain Gaunt, the minimalist structure includes a dog kennel, dog run and refuse store. “Greenhouses are becoming less traditional and more modern, acting as multi-functional spaces, minimal in design with more high-tech features,” says project director Dominic Gaunt. Designed to be self-sufficient, Itchen Greenhouse uses a low-maintenance building management system, which automatically opens and closes louvered windows, controlling solar gain and regulating internal temperature.

Perhaps the most ambitious take on the residential greenhouse is Hiroshi Iguchi’s Camouflage House, a Nagano residence conceptualized in its entirety as a conservatory. Built in 2009, the house completely blends into its forest surroundings, blurring the lines between outside and inside. Its glass façade and slanted roof provide natural light, reducing electricity use, while white canvas panels in the interior prevent excessive heat buildup. Its environmentally sensitive footprint was built around existing trees, incorporating them into the design.

The Camouflage House is part of the architect’s Fifth World project, which promotes eco-friendly and sustainable architecture. Iguchi’s previous project, Kurimoto Millennium City, saw four homes encased in insulated glass structures. Such a utopian approach is not unlike the Naturhus, a Stockholm family residence designed and built by Swedish architect Bengt Warne in 1976. The first of its kind, the house allowed Warne to cultivate Mediterranean-style gardens complete with fig trees and wine grapes in a Scandinavian climate.

The Green Shed. (Kekkillä group/Arsi Ikäheimonen)

An architect-designed site-specific greenhouse might not be a viable option for many, and so, recognizing the need for prefabricated solutions, Finnish home and garden company Kekkilä Group commissioned architect Ville Hara of Avanto Architects and designer Linda Bergroth to design the Green Shed, a modular wood and toughened safety glass structure for small-scale cultivation and storage. The base unit features a six-squaremetre storage shed and a two-squaremetre greenhouse that clients can customize by adding additional modules. Bergroth turned her own model into a lakeside garden bedroom.

Similarly, Colorado-based Studio Shed, which specializes in prefabricated backyard structures, recently added a greenhouse to its catalogue. The Studio Sprout greenhouse is available in three sizes, with the base eight-by-eight-foot model starting at $8,000 (U.S.). That seems like a worthwhile investment for green thumbs craving a few hours in the garden to get through winter.

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